Buddy Check 3: What it means to be a breast cancer ‘previvor’

Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 5:45 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - We begin this new year with a new term for many of us. Have you ever heard of a ‘previvor?’ They have surgeries or treatment to avoid cancer because of a gene mutation that puts them at high risk for the disease.

The ‘previvor’ KY3 recently met is now on a one-woman mission to spread the word that knowing your family’s medical history could lead to genetic testing and even treatment before cancer occurs.

Elizabeth Kelly is sitting in the driver’s seat a lot these days. And not just in her prized Jeep. She decided to fight breast cancer before she could be diagnosed with it. Kelly says she decided a prophylactic double mastectomy would be her best option. She said it turned out to be a good thing. When her pathology report came back after the surgery, she said it indicated if she hadn’t had the surgery, she probably would have been diagnosed with cancer before long.

Kelly had never heard of a “previvor” until, as an adult, she met her biological dad and his side of her family. They were all anxious to warn her about what ran in their family.

“They came to me on Thanksgiving and told me they are all breast cancer survivors and carry the BRCA-2 gene mutation they already knew,” said Kelly.

Kelly didn’t realize how valuable that information was at the time. Between working full time, being a wife, mom, and new grandma, Kelly had put the news of her family medical history on hold. But when she started her yearly mammograms and kept getting called back for changes in her breasts, she told her primary care doctor about her family history. He immediately referred her to a genetic counselor.

Mercy’s genetic counselor’s advice is for everyone.

“The most important message is, if possible, to talk to your family members to really ask what types of cancer were diagnosed and at what ages,” according to Robin Troxell. “If we can find someone who is at high risk and help them possibly prevent or especially catch cancer at an early stage when it is much more treatable, then we really have more options for people.”

About this time last year, Kelly got the results from her genetic test, confirming she had the BRCA-2 gene mutation, dramatically increasing her risk for breast cancer by up to 80%. That’s when she started considering the mastectomies and finally opted for the surgery after a visit to another specialist. Kelly said her doctor told her with this gene mutation, it’s not if you get cancer, but when you get cancer.

Six months later, Kelly had mastectomies. Since then, she’s been spreading the word, even using her Jeep as a billboard to tell everyone that you can fight cancer before it happens.

“I thought, you know, I drive my Jeep every day, and I go do this Jeep runs all the time,” said Kelly. “So why not put it out there on my JJeep? What I’ve gone through. There are not a lot of people out there that actually know what BRCA is or what it means to be a previvor. And education is power.”

Kelly’s way of starting conversations could save lives down the road.

Mastectomies take away 99 percent of breast cancer risks. The BRCA 2 mutation also poses risks for other cancers too. Kelly is following medical advice as more decisions about prophylactic surgeries or medicines come up in her future. Again, don’t forget to sign up for Buddy Check 3.

Just click on this link: https://www.ky3.com/page/buddy-check-3/, so you can help a buddy troubleshoot cancer.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com